Norway, encompassed by beautiful mountains, stunning glaciers and picturesque fjords, had been on the top of my holiday bucket list for a very long time. The culture, cuisine and landscapes had always intrigued me, and I’d dreamed of seeing the northern lights. Recently, I was lucky enough to embark on Hurtigruten’s Northern Lights Discovery, voyaging from Tromsø to Tromsø. Here’s a diary of my time on board MS Nordnorge.
Day 1 – Tromsø, Norway
As we flew into Tromsø snow capped mountains, clear blue fjords and pastel yellow skies greeted us. We hopped onto an airport shuttle bus and before we knew it had arrived at Tromsø port, where MS Nordnorge was waiting for us.
MS Nordnorge, named after the northern region of Norway, was refurbished in 2016. She boasts three different restaurants, a bar, a bakery, an ice cream bar, a sauna, a fitness room, a conference room and extensive shop. As we embarked, I was so surprised at the beauty of Hurtigruten’s 590 passenger ship. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting prior to travelling with the cruise line, but it certainly wasn’t a modern, Arctic-inspired vessel with Scandinavian design throughout. Our cabin, a Polar Outside on Deck 3, was clean and cleverly designed, allowing for enough space for all our luggage without impacting on the room. The public areas were light and bright and provided a fantastic spot to relax.
As we were exploring the ship before dinner the northern lights notification was sounded, so we rushed out on to Deck 7 and watched the spectacle unravel overhead. Hurtigruten have devised a system whereby all passengers are notified as soon as the aurora borealis appear – guests have the choice to hear announcements in their cabin, meaning you’ll never miss the lights.
Day 2 – Honningsvåg and Kjøllefjord, Norway
We arrived in Honningsvåg ready for the first excursion of the day – a trip to The North Cape. Snow had reached northern Norway 10 days early, so we were very well prepared with plenty of warm layers.
North Cape is the northernmost point on the European continent. Far above the Arctic Circle, it offers arctic adventures like dog sledding in the winter and months of never-ending sunlight in the summer. The landscape here is truly stunning, with endless ocean and cliff coast views. We spent some time taking in the peaceful scenery, admiring the globe monument (which marks the northern tip of Europe) and playing in the powdery snow. When our toes couldn’t take the cold anymore, we headed inside to the combined museum and restaurant to warm up. Here, we learnt about the early expeditions to North Cape, watched a fascinating panoramic film that transported us through every season and wandered round the shop looking for souvenirs.
On the way back to MS Nordnorge, our knowledgeable tour guide informed us on passing attractions. As we passed a fjord, someone spotted movement in the water – a pod of whales! 5 or 6 minke whales splashed around before us, showing off as if they knew we were there.
At 5pm we arrived in Kjøllefjord, a small village in Finnmark county, ready for our second excursion of the day - a visit to a local Sami family. Welcomed into their home, we learnt all about the natural medicines and mystical cultural facets of the indigenous Sami culture. We tasted different traditional Sami dishes and herbs (reindeer, cloudberries and dried fish), whilst hearing tales about the Sami Shaman and Sami culture.
As we left their home, we stepped outside to see the beautiful northern lights dancing above us. As we were away from light pollution, the lights appeared much brighter in the sky and we saw touches of pink above us.
Day 3 – Kirkenes, Norway
On day 3 we awoke early, ready for a morning of exploration. We had reached Kirkenes overnight and were to walk up Langøra aided by the expedition team and a very welcome surprise, Odin (a four month old Husky).
Along our Level 4 hike we enjoyed beautiful views of the mouth of the Pasvik river and even got to see the Russian border. Careful not to get too close to the border (rumours of $500 fines and interrogations by Russian police petrified us), we sipped on hot chocolate, munched on Kvikk Lunsj (Norwegian KitKat’s) and admired the spectacular Pasvik river.
MS Nordnorge has her own on board Expedition Team, who lead shore excursions, hold interesting lectures, presentations and activities and show live points of interest enabling you to learn more about the nature, culture and other phenomena encountered along the coast of Norway.
Day 4 – Hammerfest and Tromsø, Norway
Another early morning was very much welcomed by Hurtigruten’s special energy coffee. After breakfast we headed out to Deck 7 and were handed a mug of energy coffee free of charge. The ingredients of the drink are top secret, but hints of cinnamon and other spices woke and warmed us.
We arrived in Hammerfest just before 11am ready for our second hike of the trip. Our expedition leader had originally planned a walking tour that followed the path to the top of Mount Salen but due to heavy snowfall overnight he deemed it unsafe and instead we wandered around Hammerfest lake, snow spikes and all. Hammerfest is the northernmost town in the world with a fascinating history and I would highly recommend a wander round, if only for a short time.
As the snow fell thick and fast, we raced back to the ship ready for lunch. The food on board MS Nordnorge is incredible, with a mixture of buffets and set menus offering traditional Norwegian cuisine. There really is a dish for everyone with all dietary requirements catered to. I particularly enjoyed the freedom of the buffet at breakfast and lunch but the set menu at dinner pushed me to try dishes I usually wouldn’t, reindeer for example.
After lunch we headed to the Conference Room on Deck 4 eager to learn more about the history of Hurtigruten. The lecture was fascinating and taught us so much about the creation of the line and Richard With’s eagerness to explore.
With a few hours to spare before our next scheduled excursion, we relaxed in the Explorer Lounge with a book and gin in hand. The lounge offers panoramic views of the passing scenery and with its show stopping fake fire and baby grand piano, is a fabulous place to unwind.
Thankful for the energy coffee, we headed to the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø for the midnight concert. A truly beautiful experience, the midnight concert enabled us to hear beautiful Norwegian folk songs and hymns, experience the cathedrals breathtaking acoustics and marvel at the impressive interior architecture and stained glass mosaic. A lovely way to spend our last evening in Norway.
Day 5 – Tromsø, Norway
With only a few hours before our flight home, we decided to explore more of Tromsø. Known for its iconic views, we wanted to see Tromsø from above and headed for the Fjellheisen, Tromsø’s cable car. For just under £20 we were transported to Storsteinen mountain ledge where the glass viewing platform waited for us. From here we enjoyed spectacular panoramic views of Tromsø and the surrounding islands, mountains and fjords.
Though very sad to say goodbye to Norway, it was time to head home. My time aboard MS Nordnorge was fantastic – the food, the crew, the experiences and most importantly, the destination were incredible. Thank you Hurtigruten for the trip of a lifetime!